A Candid Discussion About Eating Disorders

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Diane Smith (left) and Dr. Carolyn Drazinic discuss eating disorders at the fall premier of the Discovery Series. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)

It was a story that Emmy-award winning journalist Diane Smith never intended to tell, but one that inspired a crowd of more than 200 people during her Sept. 10 presentation in the Health Center’s first “Discovery Series” health lecture of the fall season.

Smith candidly shared details of her lifelong struggles with food and how she had tried “every diet in the book” until she reached a turning point in 2011 during a conversation with her close friend Mika Brzezinski, also a broadcast journalist, who is now a co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

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Diane Smith signs copies of the book she co-authored about her and a friend’s struggles with food. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)

“It started with three little words that and changed two lives,” she said, describing how Brzezinski confronted Smith and said, “You are fat.” At that time, Smith was 75 pounds overweight. As the conversation unfolded, however, Brzezinski confessed that she too was “obsessed” with food and needed to address her own unhealthy habits.

In the end, both agreed to take better care of themselves, with Smith pledging to exercise and lose weight and Brzezinski agreeing to try to gain weight and more importantly, confront her own issues with food. Both have successfully reached their goals.

But they took it one step further. They decided to share their stories and reach out to other women and men who face the same challenges. Earlier this year, their book Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, was released.

“We did this because of concern for others – and to start an honest conversation about food issues,” Smith said, noting that Americans are surrounded by cheap and readily available unhealthy food choices, and for many, it can become addictive.

“We want to help Americans get healthy and push this subject out of the closet and onto the table,” she said.

The next Discovery Series program will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 8, featuring experts from the UConn Center on Aging. The topic will be “Memory Matters,” exploring topics such as the prevention, detection and treatment of memory disorders; help for caregivers; and managing the behavioral and psychiatric problems associated with memory disorders. To register, call 800-535-6232 or online.

Dr. Carolyn Drazinic, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, who also participated in the Discovery Series, shared Smith’s concerns about food addiction.

“I think there is a lot of validity to the notion of food addiction. We know from research that the dopamine drive connected with food is similar to those of recreational drugs,” Drazinic said. She also noted that many of the characteristics of addiction can be applied to people with weight problems, including cravings and continued use despite adverse consequences.

Drazinic, who sees many patients who with food problems, encourages people struggling with their weight to talk to their physician and like Smith, to follow a steady and sensible plan to learn better eating and exercise habits.

Several resources at the Health Center can help people who struggle with their weight:

  • Ready to Lose Weight Management Program: This is a behavior-based weight loss program, led by nutritionist Linda York. The program consists of an introductory class with an individualized meal plan followed by 6 weekly follow up sessions. Each session includes a weigh in, discussion of progress and a topic. Topics include eating out strategies, cooking light, emotional eating, exercise, smart shopping, mindful eating and holiday eating. The next class is September 24 at the Health Center. To register, call 800-535-6232.
  • Lifestyle Modification Lecture Series: Experts from the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center routinely share advice about nutrition and exercise during these free lectures at the Health Center. The next program will be held on Sept. 18 and will look at how to make simple lifestyle changes for healthy rewards.
  • Start with the Right Doctor: To make an appointment with a Health Center primary care physician, call 800-535-6232 or request an appointment online.

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